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How to Get Out of Iraq | The Nation

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How to Get Out of Iraq

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Sherle R. Schwenninger

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The most commonly proposed Democratic alternative to the Administration's policy in Iraq--turning over political authority to the United Nations and getting more countries to provide more troops and money--is well intentioned but lacks seriousness, for two reasons.

First, it is not realistic to expect the UN to assume such responsibility without more resources, without assurances from the United States about security and without some control over the conduct of American military strategy. Likewise, it is not realistic to expect countries like Egypt, France, Germany, Russia, India and Pakistan, which opposed the war, to now commit substantial troops to Iraq in the middle of a major insurgency, especially without a larger shift in US policy. For both domestic and international reasons, these countries do not want to be seen as instruments of what they consider to be a misguided American policy toward the Middle East in general.

Second, the Democratic alternative does not go far enough to change the political dynamic from one of occupation (albeit a more legitimate one) to one of Iraqi sovereignty. After all, the UN itself has been a target of the insurgents, and there now seems to be a general mistrust and impatience with any foreign control over Iraq's future. Any proposal to stabilize Iraq must restore a sense of ownership to the Iraqi people as well as real power.

For these reasons, we need to think in bolder terms about what we can offer to the international community and to the Iraqi people in order to gain their active support for a plan that would transfer authority to the UN and to an Iraqi interim government. There would need to be three elements to this grand bargain. The first would be the promise of substantial resources to the UN, not only for this Iraqi state-building effort but also for comparable efforts in the future, including resources that would increase the capacity of the UN to provide more of its own security in the future for such missions. Unless the United States can demonstrate to the other major stakeholders in the UN that its attitude toward the organization has changed, it is unlikely to elicit more than a token response.

The second element of the grand bargain must be the internationalization of other elements of US Middle East policy that affect the political dynamic inside Iraq. It makes no sense whatsoever for other countries to commit money and security forces to Iraq as long as the United States continues to condone Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and pursues a hostile policy toward Iran and Syria. At a minimum, this means a shift in American policy toward nonbelligerence toward Iran and Syria, a commitment to a clear timetable for a Palestinian state and a commitment to a true no-weapons-of-mass-destruction zone in the Middle East, which means a commitment to confront Israel over its possession of nuclear weapons.

The third and final element would need to be a quick turnover of true sovereignty to the Iraqi people, however ill prepared they may now seem for this task. At a minimum, any interim government must have control over its own security forces and economy. To demonstrate that Iraqis own their own economy, we might consider the idea proposed by Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation, which would give every Iraqi an ownership stake in the country's oil wealth. If, for example, on June 30 every Iraqi received $300 as a distribution of future profits from the nation's oil wealth, it might change dramatically the political dynamics within Iraq, insuring a more peaceful transition to full statehood.

But unless we are willing to think more boldly along these lines, the wiser course may be for the United States to withdraw its troops and disengage more generally from the region, allowing the Iraqi people to sort out their future, with the understanding that there may be a long period of instability, but at least the United States would not be a contributing factor to that instability and no longer a target of Arab anger and frustration.


Senior fellow, World Policy Institute at the New School University.

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